Neora Valley National Park

Date of Submission: 26/05/2009
Criteria: (vii)(x)
Category: Natural
State, Province or Region:
Darjeeling district, West Bengal State, India
Ref.: 5447

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N 27 52 03 to N 27 07 35 and E 80 45 to E 80 55

The Neora Valley National Park (NVNP), covers a total area of 88 km². NVNP is a compact patch of virgin forest, rich in biodiversity located in the Eastern Himalayas, a global 'biodiversity hotspot'. It was notified as a National Park based on the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 in the year 1992. It is contiguous with Sikkim and Bhutan at its northern and north-eastern boundaries respectively and links the Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in Sikkim and the Toorsa Strict Reserve of Bhutan. It is also an integral part of the Kanchenjunga Landscape. The southern boundaries of the Park are adjoining to the forests of Jalpaiguri district which have connectivity with the Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gorumara National Park.

NVNP is one of the three PAs in Darjeeling district of West Bengal and the most undisturbed patch of forest of the State. It is unique and ecologically important as it includes a relatively inaccessible patch of late successional forests and with rich diversity and a wide range of environment gradients.

The compact tract of forest is virgin in nature because of its unique topography comprising the hills which rise up abruptly from the piedmonts increasing northwards and having a mosaic of micro topographic units. This complex physical environment is a result of different geomorphic processes, each of which has developed into the characteristic assemblage of landforms. The altitude varies from 183m to 3200m, the highest point being near Sikkim border in the North. The altitudinal variation covers two biomes namely Sino- Himalayan Temperate Forest (Biome -7) from 1800m to 3600m and Sino-Himalayan Subtropical Forest (Biome-8) from 1000m to 2000m (Islam and Rahmani 2004).

NVNP lies in the biogeographic zone 2 (Rodgers et al. 2002). In spite of being in Oriental Regional, NVNP has some floral and faunal similarities with the Palaearctic Region, the adjacent zoogeographic region. Moreover, it consists of the characteristics of all the three sub-regions, namely Himalayan Montane System, Indian Peninsular Sub-region and the Malayan sub-region. Four habitat types are recognised viz., (i) Subtropical Mixed Broadleaf Forest, (ii) Lower Temperate Evergreen Forest, (iii) Upper Temperate Mixed Broadleaf Forest and (iv) Rhododendron Forest. The vegetation includes Dry Mixed Forest, Wet Mixed Forest, Lauraceous Forest, Bak-Oak Forest, High level oak Forest, Coniferous Forest, Himalayas Moist Temperate Forest and Rhododendron forest. It is home to several endemic orchids.

The Neora Valley National Park is unique in its natural beauty with the spectacular Kanchenjunga range in the backdrop. Approximately 20% of the total species (680 angiosperm species, about 23 Peteridophytes species, 4-5 species of Gymnosperms) found in the PA are extremely rare. Many of these species face the threat of extinction such as Balanophora neorensis (a unique species of parasitic angiosperm), Balanophora polyandra, Betula utilis, Swertia chirata, Swertia bimaculata, Rananculus tricuspes, Digitalis purpuria, Geranium nepalense, Taxus baccata, and Ilex hookeri.

The common species of Rhododendrons are Rhododendron arboruem, R. barbatum, R.falconeri, R. dalhousiae. A number of species with medicinal value are also found here. Some of them are Swertia chirata, Lycopodium spp., Aconitum spp., Aristolochia spp., Berberis cristata, Costus speciosa, Didymocarpus pedicellate, Rouwolfia serpentine, etc.

The mammals of NVNP include the Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens), Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus), Sāmbar (Cervus unicolor), Barking Deer (Muntaicus muntjak,), Serow (Naemorhedus sumatraensis), Goral (Naemorhedus goral, Dhole (Cuon alpinus), Gaur (Bos frontalis), Tiger (Panthera tigris), Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Elephant (Elephas maximas), Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), Marbled cat (Pardofelis), Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Chinese marmorata Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Malayan Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor).

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The NVNP is unique and ecologically important as it includes a relatively inaccessible patch of late successional forests with rich diversity and a wide range of environmental gradients from 183 m to 3200m. The temperate forests in NVNP found at elevations where moisture tends to condense and remain in the air during the warm moist rowing season are among the most spectacular and species rich temperate forests in the world. These forests are dominated by evergreen broadleaved trees like Quercus in the lower reaches from about 2000-2500m and mixed conifers like Taxus, Tsuga and winter deciduous broadleaved species like Acer, Betula, Magnolia in the upper reaches from 2500-3000m. The drier south facing slopes support extensive stands of arboreal Rhododendron species that are associated with oaks. These forests support rich epiphytic plants of various dicots, orchids, ferns and mosses. Bamboo (Arundinaria spp.) is dominant in the understorey.

NVNP provides protection to various species of wildlife included in Red Data Book of IUCN and the appendices of CITES. These include more than 31 species of mammals, 258 species of birds (Islam and Rahmani 2004), 276 species of insects, 38 species of other invertebrates including 6 species of leeches, namely Dinobdella forox, Hirudinaria manillensis, Haemadipsa zeylanica, Haemadipsa Montana, Haemadipsa sylvestris and Haemadipsa ornate. Neora Valley National Park is rich in entomofauna and other invertebrates.

NVNP is an Important Bird Area (Islam and Rahmani 2004) which falls within the Restricted Range Species site - the Endemic Bird Area, Eastern Himalayas and the Restricted Assemblages Biomes, Sino Himalayan Temperate Forest and Sino Himalayan Subtropical Forest. Seven Globally Threatened species and two Near Threatened species occur including endemic birds viz., Black-lored Tit Parus, Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii, Rufous Throated Wren xanthogenys Babbler Spelaeornis caudatus, Rusty Throated Wren Babbler S. badeigularis and Rufous Sibia Heterophasia capistrata. The Park also harbours many rare birds such as the Ward's Trogon Harpactes wardi, Satyr Tragopan Tragopan satyra and the Rufous Necked Hornbill Aceros nipalensis. It is one of the best sites in India to see Rustybellied Shortwing Brachypteryx hyperythra, which is endemic to the Eastern Himalayas.

Of the mammals present, the Red Panda is the most endangered and unique resident of the Park. Historically, the Red Panda shifted to Eastern Himalayas when big gorges were created after the formation of Himalayas and is endemic to Bhutan, southern China, Pakistan, India, Laos, Nepal and Myanmar. The sub-species of Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens fulgens) is found in Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh while on the other side of Brahmaputra in China and Myanmar, the red panda evolved into other sub-species, Ailurus fulgens styani. Within India, it is found in the states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Meghalaya and there is a substantial population in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Although it is likely that the Red Panda survived in forests of Sikkim and Singalila National Park, the undisturbed forest area of NVNP is the last remaining good habitat for Red Panda.

Neora Valley National Park forms the catchment of Neora River, which supplies drinking water to Kalimpong, sub-division of Darjeeling district.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Under the instruction from the Government of India, Dr. D. Brandis, on his way from Burma to take up the post of the Inspector General of Forests, India, inspected some of the forests of Bengal in the year 1862. Then after consultation with Dr. Anderson, Superintendent of Botanical Gardens, Calcutta, he submitted his proposal for conservation of the forest in Bengal and in 1864 the proposal was approved. Post-independence, the final notification for declaring the area as Neora Valley National Park came to effect in December 1992.

Due to inaccessibility and difficult terrain, biotic pressures are not very acute and therefore there are intact and well preserved forest patches.

Comparison with other similar properties

The NVNP which is located in the Eastern Himalayas region that has been included among the Global Hotspots (Myers et al., 2000), Global 200 ecoregions (Olson and Dinnerstein 1998), two endemic bird areas (Stattersfield et al. 1998) and several centres for plant diversity (WWF/IUCN 1995). The Eastern Himalayas are significant for the geological history and biogeographic patterns, with representations from tropical Indo-China, temperate East Asia, Palearctic region and Deccan Plateau.

The Terai-Arc landscape, The Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, the Kanchenjunga-Singalila Complex, the Kaziranga-Karbi Anlong landscape and the North Bank landscape have been identified as the five important representatives of the Eastern Himalayan Landscape by the WWF-US Asia Program. This landscape is considered an important ecological corridor important for the movement of species such as the Tiger, Asian elephant, Snow leopard, Clouded leopard, ungulate species like the Takin and several large-bodied bird species.

The most significant species, especially for the Neora Valley is the Red Panda which is mostly a herbaceous mammal, specialized bamboofeeder occurring between 1800m to 4800m elevation. They are typically found in temperate climate, in deciduous and coniferous forests, usually with an understorey of bamboo. They are thus indicators of the health of these forests. NVNP is among the richest biological zones of North-east India and has the last tracts of virgin wilderness sustaining a unique ecosystem where tropical, sub tropical, sub-temperate and temperate vegetation are represented as a wealth of flora and fauna. Thus, as compared to other similar sites, NVNP is an important biodiversity rich habitat which also forms part of a larger and very important Eastern Himalaya landscape.